My book club’s novel for the month of March was “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton. I had heard some things about this book and about her previous work, “The House at Riverton,” so I was excited to read this one.
The book starts on a heart-wrenching note as we discover that a 4-year-old little girl has been abandoned on a boat going from England to Australia in 1913. She is found by the dockmaster with only a small suitcase containing a few things, including a beautiful volume of fairy tales. The dockmaster and his wife raise the girl, Nell, as their own, but on her 21st birthday, they tell her the truth. This knowledge leads Nell, and eventually Nell’s own granddaughter, Cassandra, on a journey through the past (and back to England) that will change both of their paths forever.
This brief synopsis doesn’t even begin to describe the depth and span of this novel. The complete story plays out over a period of more than a hundred years and delves into the lives of so many different people who have a part to play in Nell’s history. While a few ladies in my book club didn’t get drawn into the story immediately, I have to say that I was hooked from page one. I just had to know what happened to that little girl! There is no way I would have been able to stop reading this book, for that reason alone! It only took me about 3 days (actually evenings…after the little one was in bed!) to read this 545-page book. I’m sure there are many people out there (as I have seen from reviews on Amazon.com) who thought this book was boring, but I was mesmerized by the story the whole time. Even though I figured out most of the secrets and mysteries, it was still an engrossing tale.
My main critique of this novel is that each chapter flips back and forth among 3-4 main time periods. The story is very well developed through these changes (I liked how the historical story was revealed to the reader at the same time that Nell and Cassandra were finding out that particular bit of history), but it would take a few paragraphs for me to wrap by brain around who was ‘talking’ in that section and what was taking place. Someone in my book club said that she made a family tree to keep everyone straight. I wish I had done that! I think I would have needed a ‘family’ tree and a ‘time & place’ tree! Another critique I must point out is one that I won’t talk about much for fear of giving too much away. I will only say that I thought the love interest towards the end was a little far-fetched and seemed to be just ‘thrown in for good measure to make it more of a love story.’
Overall, I thought this novel was well written and fascinating. This would be a good one to explore the many themes that were so well-placed throughout the book, especially how they related to the book of fairy tales that came with Nell from England to Australia. And how everything related to the garden. One thing that I took away from it was how so many of the characters never knew what it was like to truly be loved, especially by their parents. This hole had such an irreversible impact on how their lives turned out. And then Nell, who was truly loved by her adoptive parents, felt betrayed and abandoned upon learning the truth. So much so that she spent her entire life trying to put the pieces of her past back together.
“The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton was a great book, and I will give it… 4 ½ BookWorms!